garden 014 (Medium)Now that my first ever garden is done for the year, all except for the 5 or 6 carrot tops poking up, it’s time for me to reflect on all of the things I’ve learned.

1. Test your soil. I didn’t do this. I should have. I even got a nice little box to put a soil sample in to mail to my local Department of Agriculture for a free testing. Dumb me. They would have been able to tell me exactly what my soil is lacking, so that I would have known how to properly amend it and I could have given my plants the nutrients they needed. Next year I will definitely do this.

2. Feed your soil. You must fertilize! Just sticking a seed in the ground, watering it, and hoping it will grow doesn’t work. Believe me. Lesson learned.

3. Don’t leave a grass border inside the garden. I thought it would be a good idea to leave a nice edging of grass along the perimeter of the garden, for me to walk along. Not a good idea. The grass “path” was too narrow for me to have mowed without hacking at my crops, so it grew nice and tall and just looked like weeds everywhere. Plus, it spread into the garden.

4. Plant flowers. I always wondered why people planted flowers in and around their gardens. I assumed it was just to make it look nice and colorful. But I’ve realized that those flowers actually serve a purpose… to attract bees! You need bees to pollinate your plants, or else you won’t get much fruit at all. Aha! Now I get it! Plus, some flowers are good companion plants, meaning that they will give nutrients into the soil that other crops will benefit from, or even help to keep nasty bugs away.

5. Invite the birds. I’ve also noticed that many people have bird houses near their gardens. Again, I thought it was just for fun. But birds can be very helpful to gardeners, as they will enjoy eating nasty pests from your plants. Next year I’d like to have a bird house in a corner of my garden.

6. Water at the right time. I never knew that you couldn’t water your garden at any ol’ time of the day. You should only water early in the morning, or later in the evening, at times when it’s cool outside. If you water in the heat of the sun it will scorch your plants.

7. Don’t use fresh manure. You  need to let your manure sit for like 6 months to a year before you put it in the garden.

8. Plant Cover Crops. When you are finished using your garden for the year, plant a cover crop. Plants like Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, and Rye add nutrients back into the soil.

9. Be careful thinning and transplanting. Before you go pulling up seedlings in order to transplant, wait until they are a good size. If you pull them up before they are a fair size, they will only shrivel up before your eyes when you try to replant them.

10. Leggy seedlings need more light.

11. Use some sort of pest control. Otherwise, all of your hard work will only benefit the bugs.

12. Good fencing. If you have critters in your backyard, make sure you put up a good fence around your garden. Pay close attention to the bottom of your fence, making sure animals can’t push under it.

13. Don’t pick your watermelons too soon!!

14. Root crops really need loose soil. They truly won’t grow in a hard ground.

15. When it comes to potatoes: row planting is better than planting in holes. You may recall that when I planted potatoes this year, I experimented with two methods: row planting, and deep hole planting. Only one out of ten holes actually produced anything. The problem that I realized was that every time it would rain, the holes would fill up. I think the potatoes just rotted. At least the mounds produced something, though not much at all. I know my mistake was that I didn’t mound them enough. I think I’ll try growing potatoes in a trash can next year!

16. Blossom-End Rot on Tomatoes can be avoided by crushing eggshells and sprinkling them in the soil around the plants.

17. Plant lettuce in cool weather.

So, lots of lessons learned… the hard way. But, when you learn like that, you never forget!

I’ve decided not to plant a fall crop. I’m going to work on amending the soil for Spring. I’m excited about next year’s garden. I just know it will be better, especially since I won’t be making so many crucial mistakes!

So, what about you? Have any tips to share with us new gardeners that will spare us from having to learn another lesson the hard way?!